Journey to the volcanoes:
an adventure of fire and ice
Very close to Guatemala City there is a mountain range home to five different volcanos. Among them, the "Volcán de Fuego" or Fire Volcano is the most active in all of Central America and the world. Furthermore, its most recent eruption happened just a few years ago; ravaging everything in its path. A lot of people live in the basins adjacent to the volcanoes because the soot and dust emitted make such lands rich in nutrients, which in turn makes crops like coffee beans and avocadoes highly profitable. Additionally, every year, thousands of people flock to this mountain range to witness their destructive power firsthand.
Rodrigo Esteva, a Mexican photographer, tells us about his experience climbing two volcanos from this region: the Acatenango and the Pacaya. Don't miss out on this exciting adventure!
I always wondered what would happen if the Popocatépetl [volcano near Mexico City] were to erupt someday. I've always had a view of it from my balcony, but I have never explored it. To cross this experience off my list and see lava in the flesh, I got two of my photographer friends, Enrique and Andres, onboard. Their hiking spirit itched the very moment they proposed me visiting Acatenango.
We arrived early in Guatemala. We planned to arrive at the campsite first, which has an amazing view of the other volcanos, and then climb the Acatenango to see its other-worldly view. I had never climbed a mountain, let alone a volcano, so I had great expectations from this new experience. Nevertheless, I felt underprepared and I had recently suffered from a knee injury. Regardless, I would never miss out on such an adventure. Reaching the campsite alone was a six-hour odyssey. There, we teamed with a Guatemalan photographer named Fransisco Sojuel. He was going to be our guide since this is a frequent trip for him since the mountains are a great site for astrophotography.
We reached camp in the afternoon and had several hours to rest. Lava is can be better appreciated during the nighttime so we planned to reach the summit later in the afternoon. What we hadn't foreseen was that the volcano became active just as soon as we had arrived! Amidst the excitement, we didn't have time to get our photography equipment out and so resorted to filming with our phones. After the fact, we met people from all around the world who were staying at the camp as well. Among them, photographers from National Geographic.
It was an overcast day, which prompted us to set a campfire and while we waited for the clouds to go away to start taking shots of the volcano. Francisco brought along what for us seemed like a very strange item: a bottle of "La Indita" spirit. He explained that, sometimes, clouds can shroud the whole campsite and that this can drop temperatures below the freezing point; drinking the beverage would keep you warm. This soon became apparent when the nice and warm day suddenly turned cloudy and subsequently freezing. A cheap way of feeling warm is to bring along some spirit and drink it. Another item that kept me warm was the Expand Bag. Due to these sudden temperature changes, it is of utmost importance to have the ability to adapt and change clothes as fast as possible. The bag's easy access and great storage capacity enabled me to keep thermal clothes at hand.
The original plan was to stay one night, but the weather was not on our side; thus, we had to stay another day and ration our food. We had a string of wire and a pan, among other essentials we bought at the store before embarking on this trip. Up there, the food would get cold as soon it was served so we ate with our hands straight from the pan, we didn't bring plates or cutlery.
Night fell upon us and even though it was dark I had everything I needed at my disposal because of the Magic Loom Essentials Case that rested under my jacket. It was really helpful for me to have cash, cellphone, passport, and other essential items ready at all times. Its reflective properties are also super helpful since whenever I needed it in the dark I just shined a light on it and boom! There it was.
In the end, my two friends were the only ones who made it to the summit. My knee was cooked and climbing the steep hills would've filled every step with agony. The following day was also foggy and we couldn't see a thing; regardless, I knew this adventure was far from over. After two days of being up in Acatenango, we decided to head down to a city named La Antigua. Food is essential when it comes to getting acquainted with a new country. I always ask the waiter or cook for the best thing they have on the menu without asking what's inside the dish. After rationing and the long hike, eating warm, freshly served food was a heavenly delight. I had even lost some weight due to the strenuous physical activity of the past two days!
After such extreme days, we decided to take a break and chill doing the normal touristy stuff. I took this opportunity to do some street photography as I walked all over La Antigua. My goal was to capture the colors of the city in its full splendor. After a woman who was selling her craftmanship posed in front of a wall, I was able to capture the stunning contrast between her purple crafts and the yellow wall behind her. Another great sight to visit in the city was visiting the Capuchina's Convent. Something that stood out from this city was the warmth of its people. It didn't matter what they were busy with, they always extended their help when we asked for it. I deeply thank their hospitality.
"My goal was to capture the colors of the city in its full splendor."
That was the first time we saw magma so our instinct was to get a stick and poke it to see how long it took for the stick to catch on fire. The air became very heavy and hot because of all the smoke, making breathing difficult. The lava had just consumed the fields nearby. Their smoke smelled sweet as if it was caramel. This was because the farmlands that were burning were coffee fields. For a moment, we thought we were the only people in the world witnessing this, but in reality, the place was packed with families from all over town having picnics and watching the beautiful destruction as a normal part of life.
Out of nowhere, the weather took an unexpected shift. All-day, there was this heavy heat hitting us, but suddenly, the rain started to pour all over and the cold ushered in creating a fire tornado! We ran as fast as we could to our camp to not get wet and, of course, not get caught up in the fire. Sadly, our guide, in the middle of the panic, left out the waterproof layer for our tents and everything got soaked. Gladly for me, my Expand bag saved me once again. It kept my stuff dry and, of course, my Lifeproof Pullover helped me stay warm and dry.
"The place was packed with families from all over town having picnics and watching the beautiful destruction as a normal part of life."
Without a doubt this experience let me embrace a new culture. At first, it didn't dawn on me who would farm right next to an active volcano, but once I understood their living situation I was able to get in their shoes. One reason they do this is that the soot from the volcano contains rich minerals that make the soil very fertile. The trade-off is that once the lava covers the fields, the land won't be able to be used for another 500 years since the rock won't become soil after many many years. Just that day we were there, there was a bunch of farmers looking at their fields wondering if the lava would ravage them. We even saw a coffee field that was half consumed by volcanic rock and the other half was fine. It is amazing to see how these people live their lives in an all-or-nothing situation.
On behalf of Someone Somewhere we love to meet adventurers such as Rodrigo who find in nature invaluable stories to tell. We are deeply thankful that he told us his story and shared some of his photographs.
Are you planning your next road trip and are yet to have all of your essentials? Check out or backpacks and find the one best suited for your next adventure. Even if it gets dark out there, our Magic Loom collection will light your way with its reflective threads! And, if you're in search of a garment that can handle any situation, discover the wonder of our Lifeproof Pullover.
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